Experts weigh in on teacher compensation, funding education, and affirmative action | Eastern North Carolina Now

    Publisher's Note: This post appears here courtesy of the Carolina Journal. The author of this post is Jacob Chace.

    The final of three debates on challenges facing North Carolina's education system is slated for Wednesday evening, November 1, in Benson at the W. J. Barefoot Auditorium. This time experts will focus on education funding in North Carolina.

    In the 2023 Hometown Debate series, a collaboration between the North Carolina Institute of Political Leadership and Spectrum News 1 North Carolina, lawmakers and community leaders have been hashing out pressing topics such as affirmative action, school choice and educator compensation.


    The first debate was held on Oct. 3 at Vance-Granville Community College in Henderson. Panelists included Rep. Vernetta Alston, D-Durham; Kenny Xu, president of Color Us United; Irving Joyner, professor at North Carolina Central University; and George Leef, director of external relations at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

    The four debated implications of the Students for Fair Admissions v. UNC case which effectively overturned affirmative action. Xu, who announced on Thursday that he will seek the Republican nomination for Congressional District 13, agreed with the Supreme Court's decision.

    "It gives us the opportunity to restructure our higher education system based on merit," said Xu, who recently announced he will run for office in North Carolina's 2nd Congressional District in 2024. "Excellence has to be our sole focus, our primary focus."

    The panelists also discussed how universities would respond to the Supreme Court ruling and the future of college admissions.


    Alston disagreed with the Supreme Court's decision in the case. "I think we are in a dark moment," she said.


    At the Dennis Wicker Civic Center in Sanford on Oct. 10, panelists talked about K-12 school choice in North Carolina and the Opportunity Scholarship Program.

    Sen. Benton Sawrey, R-Johnston; Rep. Zack Hawkins, D-Durham; Marcus Brandon, executive director of NorthCarolinaCAN; and Lauren Fox, senior director of policy and research for the Public School Forum debated at the forum, including why Sawrey believes tax dollars should be available to be used for private schools.

    "It is what's best for the student. If we can find a way to provide for a student to do what's best for them, then we should do so," he said.

    Marcus Brandon, a primary sponsor of the original Opportunity Scholarship bill in 2013, agreed with Sen. Sawrey, "...making sure that all kids have the opportunity to be educated, not just the kids with parents with lots of money, is very important to me."


    "To have people have access, with no income caps, to public money to go to private schools is just not right," argued Hawkins. "It will decimate public education in the state of North Carolina."


    "Education is foundational to all other professions and, without a teacher, none of us would be where we are. We can do a whole lot better," said Dr. Townsend-Smith.

    The third Hometown Debate, held at Meredith College in Raleigh, focused on educator licensure and compensation and featured four experts from the education field. Panelists included Rep. Ashton Clemmons, D-Guilford; Brenda Berg, president & CEO of Best NC; Jill Camnitz, NC State Board of Education; and Dr. Deanna Townsend-Smith, senior director of the Dudley Flood Center at Public School Forum of NC.

    The experts also spoke about the complications of evaluating teachers based on merit.

    "I think most people agree with merit pay until you ask what do we use to measure, and that is where it falls apart," said Clemmons. "We want effective teachers to be able to earn more, but what is effective? Who decides that?"

    Clemmons, when asked about teacher licensure reform, was encouraged.

    "I think there is bipartisan overwhelming consensus that the licensure system needs to be revamped," she said.

    "The importance of education in North Carolina is not just a value; it's our legacy," explained Brad Young, executive director of IOPL. "That is why IOPL looks forward to working with Spectrum News for another year to bring awareness to the viewpoints and voices driving the education debate."


    All three debates were moderated by Spectrum News 1 senior political reporter Loretta Boniti. Sponsors of the series included the Independent Insurance Agents of North Carolina and Americans for Prosperity N.C.

    All three Hometown Debates are available in full at the Spectrum News 1 website under the In Focus tab. Established in 1988, the North Carolina Institute of Political Leadership is a nonpartisan organization, specializing in leadership training programs for public servants.
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